★★★★★, Book Reviews

Book Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle
by Shirley Jackson

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Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp. (Goodreads)

This is only the second Shirley Jackson novel I’ve read so far, but her unique style and entrancing storytelling techniques have wrapped themselves entirely around my mind, and I want nothing more than to surround myself with her works for ever. She gives every character – even Jonas, the cat! – such life, it almost felt as though I was enjoying my read by the fire in the Blackwood drawing room rather than in my own home. It was one of those stories that feels so strange and oddly casual at the same time. This seems to be a trend in Jackson novels; I felt the same while reading The Haunting of Hill House. Even when telling tales of horror and mystery, Jackson has a way of creating characters that seem so real and familiar, almost like you’re reading a story about a neighbor or an old high school friend… who may or may not have murdered their entire family over dinner one night.

The character of Merricat (short for Mary Katherine, and also the narrator of the novel) was especially notable. After witnessing her family die from poisoning at the age of 12, she refuses to exist within reality and instead lives a life of superstition and fantasy. She nails books to trees for protection and buries handfuls of marbles to dry up the creek. She talks of life on the moon and flying on winged horses and how she would like to see everyone in the village dead or crying in pain or buried underneath her feet. Sure, she’s unusual and a pretty dark character, but boy, is she fascinating. Though the tale itself is interesting enough, Merricat’s curious and captivating ways of speaking and thinking really drive the story.

I was pretending that I did not speak their language; on the moon we spoke a soft, liquid tongue, and sang in the starlight, looking down on the dead dried world.

I could fill this entire post with nothing but incredible quotes from this book, but instead I’ll just tell you that I highly, highly recommend you read it (and all things Shirley Jackson) yourself and experience Jackson’s language in its proper context. It’s truly magical, and very different from typical reads. 5 out of 5, fo’ sho’.

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